SALT LAKE CITY — For Jesse Craig, competing on the Miss America stage has been a dream since she was 4 years old.
This week, that dream is becoming a reality.
“For me, it’s never been a beauty pageant,” the 22-year-old University of Utah graduate told KSL 5 TV. “I have learned it’s about the people. It’s fun to have a crown and wear a dress.
But at the end of the day, my job as a titleholder is to make someone else’s life better.”
Craig doesn’t use the word "job" lightly. She has already traveled across the state of Utah speaking and volunteering. Since participating in the Miss America Organization, she has volunteered more than 1,000 hours of community service.
“I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Craig said. “When I started college, I was a commuter student. I felt disconnected, and I realized that disconnect was greatly attributed to the focus on myself.
"My generation has earned its title of the 'selfie generation.' We tend to be very focused on ourselves. My goal is to help young adults shift the focus to others, and therefore find human connection and happiness,” she said.
Craig implemented a platform called, “Get Up and Serve; Increasing Young Adult Involvement.” She is working with the Lieutenant Governor’s Service Commission to provide service opportunities for young adults.
When Craig was 15 years old, she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. A surgeon performed a thyroidectomy, to prevent the cancer from spreading.
“I call that the turning point in my life,” Craig said. “I didn’t want to waste a single day. I realized the future wasn’t guaranteed, and I wanted to be more involved. My health setback led me to the Miss America Organization.”
Craig said she has one supporter who knew exactly what it would take to win the state title.
Jesse Craig’s mother, Elizabeth Johnson Craig, won the Miss Utah pageant in 1991.
“She gets it,” Jesse Craig said. “My mom inspires me. She has been a voice of reason and a wonderful supporter. I remember as a young girl, walking around in plastic high heels and watching my mom coach contestants. I wanted to be like the remarkable and kind women I met through the organization.”
The Miss America Preliminary Competition begins Wednesday, Sept. 5.
Contestants are judged 50 percent on their talent. A private interview makes up 20 percent. Evening wear is 15 percent and an onstage interview rounds out the total at 15 percent of the overall score.
The Miss America Organization scrapped the swimsuit portion of competition earlier this year.
This class of 2019 Miss America contestants will make history by being the first group of state winners to leave their swimsuits for the pool and not the stage.
The organization has always focused on talent, but this year the weight is half of a contestant’s score.
Craig said she is ready.
“I have been playing the violin since I was five. I have created this piece, and I am so excited about it! I wanted it to be technical, but also fun for those who don’t know anything about the violin,” Craig said.
During the Miss Utah 2018 pageant, held in June, Craig received the preliminary talent award and a $100 scholarship. She also received the Glenn Harmon Instrumental Music Award and a $500 scholarship.
For her talent, she will play “Misirlou and the Bee,” which she self-arranged.
Craig said there are misconceptions about the Miss America Organization.
“I wish people would focus more on the scholarship and education opportunities this organization provides,” Craig said. “This program allowed me to graduate from the University of Utah with two degrees, absolutely debt free.”
Craig has earned $22,000 in scholarship money since competing in 2015.
She earned a Bachelor of Arts in English with Honors and a Bachelor of Science in Economics.
As Craig filled five large suitcases with nearly 20 gowns, appearance outfits and high-heels for the nearly two-week trip to Atlantic City, her friends and family chatted with her about politics and current events.
“Miss America needs to be relevant, while also smart and thoughtful about the world around her,” Craig said.
Before leaving for the Miss America Pageant, Craig made a special visit to Turn Community Services, a facility that serves adults with intellectual disabilities.
“These are my friends. If my legacy can be putting my friends from Turn in the spotlight, then I have succeeded.”
Craig took off her crown and clipped it on another woman who was walking with a limp.
“This will look so good on you,” Craig exclaimed.
The woman’s face lit up when she saw herself in the mirror.
“Wow. I love it,” she said as she hugged Craig.
The two took pictures and talked about their favorite type of music.
“This is what being Miss Utah is. It’s not about me. The substance of life is service,” Craig said.
The televised Miss America Pageant will air Sunday, Sept. 9.